Rick Dillinger’s hauled in three state softball championships during his summer pastime — along with untold thousands of miles in a yellow school bus.
Dillinger celebrated a milestone by winning the 1,000th game of his 36-year high school coaching career.
North Polk beat OA-BCIG of Ida Grove 5-4 on Saturday to become one of 13 Iowans to reach the barrier. On Wednesday, his players recognized him in a ceremony with cake and an autographed ball.
Ask him why he keeps coming back year after year and he ponders the point. Both of his parents played softball when he was growing up.
“That’s a good question,” Dillinger said, laughing heartily. “A lot of it was that’s the way I was raised. All summer, it was fried chicken and a Coke and off we’d go.”
This season has produced a harvest of coaching numbers. Lisbon softball coach Bob Bunting topped 1,000 wins and Carlisle’s Jim Flaws surpassed 900. Baseball coach Bill Huisman of Centerville won his 800th and Urbandale’s Denny Barton reached 700 victories.
The state’s also home to the nation’s winningest coaches in both softball (Larry Niemeyer of Cedar Rapids Jefferson has won nearly 1,900 games) and baseball (Gene Schultz of Kee of Lansing started the season with 1,675 victories).
Dillinger is quick to give players a push or a pat on the back as needed.
“He pushes us hard but understands the point of how much we can take,” third baseman Brandi Rose said. “He knows what he’s doing because he’s coached girls more than most coaches do.”
Dillinger, who also coaches girls’ basketball, served at Danville for six years. He began at North Polk in 1982 when the girls played fall softball.
There were no batting helmets or shin guards. Bats were made of wood, not high-powered materials. The pitching distance was a mere 38 feet.
Dillinger counts his biggest victories in teaching his girls the life lessons of sports. Softball saves some kids, he said.
“I don’t think they’ll always remember you for, ‘Did you teach them to bunt correctly,’ ” Dillinger said, ” ‘but did you teach them to be a better person?’ “
First baseman Miranda Murphy said Dillinger is equal parts gruff and gracious.
“If you make a mistake, he’ll yell at you at first, then tell you not to worry about it and do better next time,” Murphy said.
Dillinger has two sons and two grandchildren. He likes to travel and fish, but admits he has little spare time.
On Thursday, he practiced with the softball team, then stepped into a school bus for another long ride. His players smile at another chance to bloom.
“He works you hard,” Murphy said, “but in the end, it’s worth it.”
Basketball has taken RyAnne Ridge on a cross-country journey.
Ridge recently was hired as an assistant at Alaska-Anchorage. Before that, she coached at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. Her playing career took her to Tulsa for two seasons and then to Colorado.
The 5-foot-10 guard starred at Cedar Rapids Xavier, playing on a Class 3-A state runner-up team in 2002. She was named to the all-tournament team.
She helped her school win a state championship in 2003, posting a 24-2 record.
Ridge played two seasons at Tulsa, helping her school reach the NCAA Tournament as a sophomore.
She transferred to Colorado and finished her playing career there. Colorado qualified for the NIT Tournament while she was there. She earned a degree in psychology at the school.
LEVAR WOODS FOOTBALL CAMP: LeVar Woods followed a starring football career at West Lyon of Inwood by playing at Iowa and in the NFL. Now he’s giving back to Iowa youth players.
Boys entering grades 4-12 can participate in a one-day skills camp at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines on June 23. Guest coaches scheduled to assist include Brad Banks, Brian Ferentz and Matt Kroul. Cost is $139 per camper. For more information: http://www.levarwoodsfootball.com.
BASEBALL MARATHONS: Algona Garrigan’s baseball team played 23 games in the first 24 days of the summer baseball season, more than any other Iowa high school squad. Davis County of Bloomfield was scheduled to play 25 games in the first 25 days. Through the first 21, Davis County is unbeaten. Edgewood-Colesburg’s softball team played 24 games in its first 24 days.
Most state girls’ soccer championships:
Cedar Rapids Xavier
Cedar Rapids Kennedy